A friend recently asked me how she could nutritionally support her son who was diagnosed with ADHD. She wanted to explore all viewpoints to see if behavioral therapies, adjusting aspects of his environment, specific nutrition, among other non-medial strategies could help her boy.
Any time anyone wants to explore nutrition as a solution, I’m in. According to Dr. Pamela Compart and nutritionist Dana Laake in their "The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook" “Many of the symptom presentations in ADHD and autism are directly related to nutritional deficiencies, disturbances in nutrient metabolism, poor diet, and the negative effects of specific foods.” So yes, nutrition could potentially help this newly diagnosed boy.
Of course every child is different. Medications work wonders for some, less effectively for others. Adjusting a child’s diet can have a dramatic impact on particular kids and less influence on others. Therefore, the following recommendations are obviously just that, recommendations. Yet quite frankly, all children could benefit from eating this way, whether the tag ADHD has been uttered with their name or not.
FOODS TO AVOID:
- Sugar negatively affects energy, mood, behavior, attention, and brain function.
- Additives and food dyes have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children.
- Trans fats can harden the cell walls making both the transport of nutrients in and the removal of toxins and wastes out of cells more problematic. Many children with ADHD are already nutrient deficient and have difficulty detoxifying.
- A link has been shown between exposure to common pesticides and ADHD in boys, so buy organic when you can especially for the dirty dozen.
- Food allergens especially gluten (the protein in wheat) and casein (the protein in dairy) can cause brain fog, inattention, negative impulse control and behaviors. Compart and Laake explain, “Many children with ADHD… have problems with their intestinal lining.” When the gluten and casein proteins are not broken down properly they cannot permeate the intestinal lining and therefore wreak havoc. According to Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies by Dr. Kenneth Bock “Partially digested dairy and wheat particles are found in the urine of… children with autism and ADHD” likely because they are unable to digest them properly.
FOODS TO ENJOY:
- An anti-inflammatory diet, including lots of omega 3 fatty acids found in wild-caught fish, chia seeds and flax seeds.
- Colorful fruits and vegetables providing antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress on the body and support detoxification.
- Probiotics and fermented foods can help with digestion and nutrient absorption by supporting a healthy digestive environment.
- Where there are food deficiencies, supplement with doctor-approved supplements or natural food sources. Common deficiencies in children with ADHD: magnesium, EPA and DHA fatty acids, zinc (“no zinc, no think”), iron (one study showed that 84% of ADHD kids were low in iron), Vitamin B6, Vitamin D, and the amino acid tryptophan which is a building block to serotonin.
Intriguingly, it has been shown that many children with ADHD have more difficultly detoxifying heavy metals and other environmental toxins, specifically lead, mercury and pesticides, so be sure your child’s body is clearing properly. Some signs of ineffective detoxification: fatigue, constipation, congestion, sleep problems, headaches, muscle and joint soreness, and skin issues. The antioxidant selenium, found in salmon, turkey, chicken, sardines and lamb, can help with detoxification. Dr. Bock explains that testosterone has been shown to intensify heavy metal poisoning which might be a reason more than twice as many boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD.
If you believe your child has ADHD and would like to support him with the best nutrition, here are a few steps to take:
- Consult an integrative doctor/pediatrician.
- Conduct blood and urine testing with your child’s doctor to determine deficiencies, food allergies and sensitivities.
- Help your child go gluten and casein free.
- Restrict food additives, colorings and pesticides.
- Supplement where you child is vitamin and mineral deficient.
I also recommend "The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook" for more detail on a complete diet for a child with ADHD, the research behind the recommended food choices, and countless delicious, family-friendly recipes.